Referees: Please Send a Thank-You Card to the International Board

Roland, an adult amateur referee, asks:

What is the punishment for a player spitting at the referee while the ball is in play?  Since it is not directed at the opposing team, is the offender (one who spit) red carded and sent off of the field? How is the game restarted?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

Thanks to the International Board and the newest Law changes (as of 2016-2017), Referees and other members of the officiating crew can now be the target of a foul the same as opponents and are now granted the same restart punishment.  Spitting at anyone, including the Referee, has always been a sending-off misconduct offense, whether it was during play or not and on the field or not, so the answer to the card question isn’t new — it is, Yes, red card and a sending-off.

However, until 2016, the restart would have been an indirect free kick based solely on the misconduct because, prior to 2016, spitting as a direct free kick foul could only be performed against an opponent.  In 2016, although the language at the start of Law 12 still specifies “spits at an opponent,” Section 4 of Law 12 now states that the punishment for spitting at such other persons as a teammate, substitute, team official, or a match official is not only the same direct free kick used if the action were at an opponent but it can also be escalated to a penalty kick if it occurs inside the spitter’s penalty area.  As the International Board explained, spitting (as well striking, holding, kicking, etc.) is a serious matter and restarting play with only an indirect free kick (for the card) where the target was an official sends a weak message.

So, if you are kicked, pushed, struck, or charged (at least carelessly, etc.) or are spat upon or held, you can thank the International Board for their upgrading of the punishment.